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PHARM REPORT / KATHLEEN DOHENY

Reference Books That Make Pill Taking Easier to Swallow

August 24, 1993|KATHLEEN DOHENY

Your doctor reaches for the prescription pad, scribbles the name of the medicine and its dosage and explains how it works. You scurry off to the pharmacy and ask the questions you forgot at the doctor's office.

Now you're home, pill in one hand, glass of water in the other. Wait. How soon were you supposed to feel better? An hour from now? Tomorrow? What do you do if you skip a dose? Double up next time?

Calling the doctor or pharmacist is an option, especially since pharmacy is focusing more these days on patient counseling. But to supplement the professionals, there are a plethora of "pill books" at your neighborhood bookstore.

How to Pick

"The best source of information will always be your pharmacist," says W. Steven Pray, professor of pharmaceutics at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Weatherford. "If your pharmacist is unwilling to give you information, switch pharmacists." If you order drugs by mail, Pray adds, find out the company's toll-free number for consumer information.

But for supplementary information, he advises consumers to "look for a book written clearly in simple terms at your reading level. Look for information on how to use the product and what to do if you miss a dose."

Skim a book first, he suggests, to see if it lists adverse reactions and instructions on when to call a doctor. It should tell you when to expect relief and what side effects, if any, are common.

If the book includes information about over-the-counter drugs, there should be instructions on when to abandon self-treatment. "I'm not sure there is a single book that encapsulates all of this," he adds.

"Read through a book and see if you are comfortable with the format," advises Robert Marshall, chief executive officer of the California Pharmacists Assn., Sacramento. "If you have a hard time reading it, don't buy it."

The Experts Say

Some pharmacists recommend buying--or avoiding--certain pill books, while others see no role for them.

The "Physicians' Desk Reference," the bible of physicians that has grown in consumer popularity, "probably lists too much and gets too technical," says Ryan Chinn, a pharmacist at Long's Drug Stores, Tarzana. "But then, some don't have enough information."

Ken Rothstein, a pharmacist at Better Drugs, Glendale, advises consumers to steer clear of all pill information books. "The lay public has to be able to read between the lines, and most take everything too literally."

"About Your Medicines" is the book most often recommended to consumers by Christopher Lomax, director of pharmacy services at Childrens Hospital, Los Angeles. He cites it as straightforward and easy to understand.

On the Shelf

Here's a sampling of recently published and recently revised pill books, along with some tried-and-true bibles.

* "Physicians' Desk Reference" is written for doctors, not consumers, but many consumers have adopted it. The 1993 version costs $57.95. It contains manufacturer-supplied information, says a spokeswoman for Medical Economics Data, the publisher. The information is the type required by the Food and Drug Administration, so it is highly technical.

* Medical Economics Data also publishes the "Physicians' Desk Reference for Nonprescription Drugs." The 14th edition, just out, is $37.95. The material is manufacturer-supplied.

* "The PDR Family Guide to Prescription Drugs" is promoted as a more understandable version of the "Physicians' Desk Reference." Published by Medical Economics Data in 1993, the $24.95 guide is based on the PDR, but broken up into easier-to-read sections.

* "Prescription Drugs," published in 1992 by the Editors of Consumer Guide, is $7.99. * Even less expensive is "The Pill Book," fifth edition, at $6.99. It lists the 1,500 most commonly prescribed drugs, offering generic and brand names, dosages, side effects, adverse reactions and warnings. Written by a team of pharmacists and others, it's published by Bantam.

* The U.S. Pharmacopoeial Convention, which publishes drug information books for health professionals, just published its fifth edition of the paperback, "About Your Medicines." Meant for consumers, it's $7.95 by phone order, (800) 227-8772.

* For older pill takers, there is "The 50-plus Graedon's People's Pharmacy for Older Adults" by Joe and Teresa Graedon, a $14.95 book published in 1988 by Bantam. "Best Pills Worst Pills II: The Older Adult's Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness," published this year, is a revised version by Sidney Wolfe and his Public Citizen Health Research Group. Cost is $15.

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